Hillbark History: THE SOAP SUCCESS STORY
PERIOD COVERED 1884 – 1908
Robert W. Hudson took over the hugely successful Hudson’s Soap business after his father died in 1884. He had inherited a multinational organisation which had been built from very humble beginnings.
His father, Robert Spear Hudson, had been a chemist and druggist in West Bromwich in the Black Country. Robert spotted a business opportunity in soap manufacture, and in those days soap was bought in chunks hewn from a large block. In 1837, he began to experiment with soap blocks by grinding them into powder using a pestle and mortar, and he then sold this new ‘soap powder’ in his shop.
Initially the production line consisted solely of Hudson, but by 1854 business was so good he hired ten female employees and by 1875, he had opened a main factory at Bank Hall in Liverpool, which was the port where his raw materials came into the country. He kept his shop in West Bromwich but also had an office in Bootle. His business became so successful that eventually he employed around 1000 workers.
The secret behind the success of Hudson’s soap powder was that it offered convenience. Previously, women had been spending hours shaving and grinding the bars into their own flakes or powder. Hudson’s product allowed them to save time and energy and they flocked to buy his merchandise.
The other reason for the popularity of Hudson’s Soap Powder was Robert’s clever use of marketing to attract customers and keep them buying his products.
He employed professional artists to create colourful, eye-catching posters promoting the wonders of Hudson’s products. He was copied later by the makers of Pear’s Soap and by William Lever for his Sunlight Soap.
Hudson often used slogans and catchphrases, the most memorable being “A little of Hudson’s goes a long way” which featured on the coach which ran between Liverpool and York. He also advertised on steam and electric tramcars with the slogans “For Washing Clothes. Hudson’s Soap. For Washing Up.”
Despite being known as a manufacturer of dry soap, Robert S. Hudson never actually manufactured soap but bought the raw soap from William Gossage of Widnes.
Robert S. Hudson traded extensively. His soap and soap powders found markets at home and abroad with a flourishing export trade to New Zealand and Australia.
There are one or two reminders of the soap story still at Hillbark today, notably the Hudson’s Soap drinking bowl for puppies by the front entrance, and the Hudson coat of arms above the fireplace in the Drawing Room.
Robert William Hudson ran the business successfully until 1908 when he sold it to Lever Brothers, and they also acquired the brand name Rinso which had been invented by Robert Hudson.
Lever Brothers ran Hudson’s Soap as a subsidiary. The name, however, remained unchanged until 1935, the year Levers closed the West Bromwich and Bank Hall works.